I tried not to give in to the panic rising in me as I gripped my daughter’s hand. I squeezed too tight, and she pulled away from me. I scooped the toddler up and put her on my hip for the umpteenth time. I looked around in an attempt to get my bearings. Pooky used that moment to reach out and pat the brown stone wall. We both took a moment to admire the blocks that had been hewn and stacked with precision. Stone upon stone upon stone formed this old building. I took a couple of steps backward—as much as this the medieval alley would allow—and craned my neck to look up. The detailed architecture was awe-inspiring, especially to a girl from American suburbia. The doors were outlined with large stone blocks that met in an archway overhead. As tall as doors, the windows were placed in perfect rows and skirted with wrought-iron railings forming balconettes.
A few locals jostled past us, and my attention was brought back to the problem at hand. We couldn’t find our “flat.” Daddy had decided to take part in the afternoon siesta, but thanks to jetlag, the kiddo was not at all inclined to sleep. I’d brought her out the back of our apartment building to the cobblestone courtyard so she could explore the few pieces of play equipment and the flower plots. There were also little shops like the gelatería and the tiny grocery mart where we’d found that Spanish baby food. When we’d tired of the courtyard, I decided we could go for a stroll. We’d ambled down one of the alleys that led out of the courtyard.
I had known it was a little risky wandering off in a foreign city without cell service, but I hadn’t intended to go so far. I had mistakenly thought we would simply walk in a big square around the outside of the buildings that made up the inner courtyard. With a few left turns we’d be back at the front of our flat.
Except the buildings of this ancient city aren’t placed in the neat shape of a square. The lanes we traversed had off-shoots in unexpected directions and even dead ends. I repeatedly had to guess which way I should turn to keep traveling in the direction I felt I needed to go. It wasn’t long before our little exploration had turned into an alarming adventure, for me anyway. Pooky was content just to take it all in. We walked on, and I worked hard to keep my cool.
I was lost in Barcelona. I barely spoke Spanish. Definitely not Catalán. I had no map and no phone. I started looking around for friendly faces I could approach for directions, but the avenues were mostly deserted during the siesta. We were not in a touristy area, so there was no guarantee the people I did stop would speak English. I started trying to come up with Spanish words I could use. I didn’t know how to say “lost” or “flat,” I could try “mi casa,” but that wouldn’t help them. In my heightened state of alarm, I couldn’t remember the name of the street our apartment was on.
Again, I stopped walking. Pooky took the opportunity to scramble down my leg. An orange flower growing out of the cracks of the cobblestone had caught her attention. She squatted and peered at it with the kind of intense scrutiny only a toddler can muster. She leaned in closer and gave a big sniff. She tentatively reached out a finger and touched it. She grinned up at me. I couldn’t help but smile back. If only I’d brought my camera. But I hadn’t brought anything but the apartment key.
We walked to the end of the alley where it spilled out onto a main thoroughfare. Here “newer” buildings had been plopped in among the old stone ones. Their sides were faced with stucco, each a different color of sunset. Shops occupied the ground floor, a jarring sign of modernity in this Old World city. Most were barred shut at this hour.
I stood at the intersection and looked for street signs hoping a familiar name would jog my memory. It took me a moment to remember the signs were not on metal posts in the intersections. I’d discovered on our taxi ride from the airport that plaques indicated the street names on the sides of buildings.
“Light!” Pooky pointed at the black three-headed cast-iron lantern looming behind me. I turned to marvel at the size and beauty of this streetlight with its intricate curlicue detailing. It matched the massive iron lanterns that jutted out from the stone buildings—a gothic nod to the past.
I lingered at the corner, weighing my options. I could keep going or retrace my steps and, hopefully, end up back in the courtyard. With all the twists and turns we’d made, I knew I was likely to become even more lost if I tried to go back that way. I needed to stay the course. I felt certain I would see the front of our apartment building any minute now.
I took Pooky’s hand, and we continued along. I forced myself to stay calm and to try seeing this neighborhood the way my daughter was—as a fascinating place just waiting to be explored.
I reminded myself that the shops and cafes would be opening soon, and I could ask for help. Or here were a couple of friendly-looking ladies coming out of the alley ahead with ice cream. I could probably ask them for help….but maybe I wouldn’t need to. Maybe their ice cream was actually gelato.
I scooped Pooky up and turned into that alley, where it opened onto a sunlit courtyard with a grocer and a gelato shop and the back door of our apartment building. We were home.
BIO: Tiffiny grew up in a road-tripping family. Luckily, her husband did, too. Becoming parents did not dampen the wanderlust. Tiffiny was an elementary teacher until she started the adventure of parenting. When Tiffiny isn’t galavanting around the globe or planning a trip, she’s writing about previous ones in hopes to encourage other parents to travel with their kids. She’s the Family Travel Editor for BellaOnline and also blogs about her family’s adventures near and far.
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